Honors Program Newsletter

Spring 2015

Feature Story

"Taming the Beast: How to Tackle the Honors Thesis"

Kate Motsinger, '15

Retrospect. As the year rapidly draws to a close, this word continues to bubble to the forefront of my mind. Now that my college career is, for all intents and purposes, over, what would I have done differently? Should I have done something differently? This line of thinking certainly opens the nostalgia floodgates, but incoherent blubbering and reminiscing is not the object of this article. No, this will be a straight-no-chaser, retrospective consideration of the Honors thesis journey. So rising first-years, sophomores and juniors, look alive and strap in! This post is for you.

I am an English Literature major and, unsurprisingly, my thesis is literature-based, dealing with texts that range from the Bible to Icelandic sagas to Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings series. The foundational ideas for my project presented themselves over the course of my semester abroad at Oxford through a serendipitous mix of history and literature classes. In the dialogue between these subjects, I found points of intersection that I believed worth exploring. This leads to my first point: pick something that fascinates you--something that you can grapple with for months on end without wanting to chuck your laptop against the wall. It may sound obvious, but when considering your Honors thesis topic, seriously ask yourself whether you can tolerate working with this topic for hours and discussing the topic ad nauseum with your advisor.

That’s another key to success with the Honors thesis: pick an advisor who you already know and enjoy working with because you will be spending a considerable number of hours holed up in that professor’s office. I monopolized nearly all of Dr. McGowan’s Friday office hours for a semester straight (thank you!).

As far as choosing a topic goes, in the words of Dr. Pfau, “Now, can you tell me what is your question? What is the question you are trying to answer?” Truly, this is the crucial element to an Honors thesis. With the exception of creative enterprises in the arts, the majority of science-based, business-based and humanities-based theses will derive from a question that you believe is worth answering. For example, a Communications thesis question could be: “Is the image-sharing website imgur pure social media, or is there a social-mobilizing component? Is an online community able to facilitate social cohesion among the offline community? If so, how?” Garrett Gaughan ’15 advises that the question asked “should be one you already are familiar with. Draw from material you’ve already studied and have some basis for. It’ll make things a lot easier.”

Finally, imagine your thesis project as a crockpot stew: you pour a multitude of ingredients in, like previous research, your own research, your advisor’s suggestions, qualitative data and quantitative data. And then you let it cook, and periodically, you sample to see how it’s coming along. Too broad? Lacking in literature review? More analysis? As with any good stew, it takes time to mature, so give yourself plenty of time to craft it. By summer’s end before the Fall of senior year, aim to have a game plan for your thesis—a question to answer and a sense of how you plan to go about answering it. If possible, take an Independent Study with your advisor or a discipline-specific Senior Capstone project so that you can dig into the research and begin producing content before the Spring semester. It is wholly possible to produce the entire 40 pages of your thesis (for the humanities folks; lengths vary depending on your discipline) during finals week, but it will be about as pleasant as chewing glass.

In retrospect, with the nostalgia goggles on, the thesis project was my favorite aspect of the Honors Program. It may be yours, too. Regardless, it’s mandatory, so do yourself a favor, and give yourself the space and time to pour your heart into it. The rewards will come back ten-fold. Good luck and goodbye! To follow the example of my favorite hobbit, “This is the end. I am going. I am leaving now. Goodbye!”

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Director's Report

Dr. Jim Gump, Honors Program Director

For the Honors Program, the 2014-15 academic year has been one of innovation and spectacular student success. Even before the fall semester began, twenty-seven incoming first year Honors students participated in our inaugural pre-orientation camping trip to Santa Cruz Island in the Channel Islands National Park. The director of Outdoor Adventures, who organized the trip, described the experience as the most successful pre-orientation program in memory and plans to organize a sequel this coming summer. Once classes began in the fall semester first year Honors students began to participate in their Living Learning Community activities, which included an snorkeling adventure amongst leopard sharks at La Jolla Shores Beach and a volunteer experience with Feeding America. Another innovation this year has been the Brown Bag Luncheon series, featuring successful Honors alums who met with Honors students and engaged in informal conversation in the Honors Lounge. Our speakers included city councilman Todd Gloria (class of 2000), Scripps physician Tom Kozak (class of 1986), Carrie Baird (class of 2013), a district manager for the Gallo Wine Company, and Michael Ward (class of 1993), who manages a social services nonprofit in Los Angeles. Finally, with the generous assistance of University Publications and the Marketing and Communications Manager for the College of Arts and Sciences, we produced a beautiful updated Honors Program Brochure.

Over the course of the year Honors students have continued to play a leading role in the intellectual life of the campus. Last November Erin Prickett and I accompanied five members of the Honors Student Board to the annual National Collegiate Honors Council conference held in Denver, Colorado. Our students presented a highly successful poster session on the restructuring of the Honors Student Board and gained new insights in their interactions with other Honors students from around the nation. At USD, Honors seniors participated in the Senior Thesis Seminar as well as Creative Collaborations and delivered sophisticated presentations on a broad range of topics, including sustainability, transitional justice, human rights, drug trafficking, virtual grieving, cyber warfare, economic development, and biochemical, theological, psychological, and literary analysis. Honors seniors (as well as several juniors) are well represented in the cohort elected to Phi Beta Kappa this spring, comprising nearly fifty per cent of all initiates. Our seniors have also been selected to prestigious graduate and professional programs, including Stanford, Rockefeller University, UCLA, Wyoming, George Washington, and USD, and others will volunteer for organizations such as Americorps and the Audubon Society. Finally, the Honors Program this spring produced its seventh class valedictorian since 2000, Communication Studies major Bonnie Campbell. As these examples suggest Honors students continue to epitomize academic excellence, one of USD’s most critical Core Values and a cornerstone of the Honors Program itself.

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Program News

Honors Overnight Recap

Michael Schwabe, ‘18

For me, the Honors Overnight is what made me want to come to the University of San Diego. I had a great experience and was excited to be on the other side of things this year as a host to prospective students. I took my “overnights” to an intramural volleyball game, as I had the previous year, along with a trivia night hosted by the Honors LLC. It was interesting to see all of the prospective students interact, and it seemed like they all had a lot in common. In the morning, the overnights, in true “honors” fashion attended Organic Chemistry II, as opposed to my General Chemistry II class. I think the visit was a success overall, as one of my visitors committed. I am excited for the Honors class of 2019 and know they will be awesome!

New HSB Leadership

Kate Motsinger, '15

We are pleased to announce that Michael Burrafato ‘16 and Kristen Obana ‘16 will succeed the Honors Student Board Co-Presidents, Taylor Kress ‘15 and Kevin Fain ‘15, as President and Vice President, respectively. The new Executive team looks forward to hosting more events that cater to the needs of sophomores and juniors, such as résumé-writing workshops, in addition to starting monthly Honors service trips to a local nonprofit organization in San Diego. We would like to thank Taylor and Kevin for their service this year, and wish Michael and Kristen the best of luck next year!

Mens et Spiritus Award

Kate Motsinger, '15

We would like to congratulate this year’s recipient of the Mens et Spiritus Award, Dr. Stephen Conroy! Dr. Conroy, an Economics professor and the Director of USD’s Center for Peace and Commerce, has been deeply involved with the Honors Program since its inception. Well-known for his dedication to his students both in and out of the classroom, Dr. Conroy has fostered an environment for intellectual growth within the Honors Program. Thank you for your service, Dr. Conroy!

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Study Abroad Corner

Sossusvlei, Namibia

Frances Casey, '16

I traveled with a group of 18 other students to Sossusvlei, Namibia. It is part of the Namib Desert, the oldest desert in the world. I was absolutely shocked to see such massive sand dunes. It honestly felt as if we were on a different planet! We watched the sunrise and sunset on the day that we spent in the desert. It was absolutely incredible seeing the sand change colors (all the travel books had promised that the sand would transition between seven different colors with the rising or setting of the sun). We hiked three huge dunes where we struggled to get to the top because with every step forwards, we would slide backwards two steps. Our guides hiked these dunes as if they were going for a casual stroll, and we were all out of breath after just a few steps. Overall, this country left me in disbelief. The people I met were the most genuine of the entire voyage and filled with such joy. The beautiful landscape of Sossusvlei left me wanting to see more of the natural beauty this world has to offer. The chicken, lamb, vegetables, and beef cooked over an open fire beneath a sky full of stars surrounded by incredible people was one of my most memorable meals and moments of my semester. The picture below is of my friends hiking up “Big Mama.” I trailed behind to capture this awesome hike.

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Honors Team-Taught Descriptions and Credit Distribution

History of Art and Architecture in Southern California

Drs. Derrick Cartwright (ARTH) and Iris Engstrand (HIST)

This course explores the ways in which artists and architects have shaped the image and cultural landscape of Southern California from the era of Spanish colonization to the present. Historians’ accounts have been at once celebratory and highly critical of the built environment and creative outputs within our State. Through readings, discussions, guest speakers and video presentations, students will be exposed to the broadest variety of representational issues, period styles, and historical debates. From our base here at the University of San Diego, it is possible to visit sites that stand out as significant, indeed crucial, to telling the story of California’s development as an artistic center. Developing a perspective on the relative successes and failures of Southern California art and architecture will comprise an important part of our course and students will be asked to develop their own viewpoints on this history through written research papers and exams.

HNRS 318: 3 units HIST/ 1 unit ARTH

HNRS 319: 3 units ARTH/ 1 unit HIST

Globalization and International Development

Drs. Harriet Baber (PHIL) and David Shirk (POLS)

This course addresses those contemporary moral issues that arise from the division between the Global North and South—“the problem of the color-line” that W. E. B. Dubois identified at the beginning of the twentieth century and which, on a scale that Dubois could not have foreseen, is the problem of the twenty-first. The course is interdisciplinary in scope, including discussion of work by both social scientists and philosophers. It combines material drawn from courses that would otherwise be taught under the distinct disciplinary rubrics of political economy or philosophy with the goal of helping students to develop an integrated understanding of the political, economic, and ethical implications of globalization.
In this course, students will consider various economic concepts and theories, historical trends in the development of the global economy, key challenges facing national and regional economies, the institutions and organizations that help to manage the global economic system, and possible macro- and micro-economic strategies for promoting economic growth and development, and the ethical dimension of institutions and policies.

HNRS 320: 3 units PHIL/ 1 unit POLS

HNRS 321: 3 units POLS/ 1 unit PHIL

Women in Islam and Confucianism

Drs. Yi Sun (HIST) and Bahar Davary (THRS)

This course will provide an analytical framework in which comparisons and contrast between women in Islamic and Confucian cultures can be made, developing an understanding of what it means to live a woman’s life in different historical circumstance and social/cultural settings. We will address issues concerning women in these cultures comparatively and engage in a comprehensive analysis of women in these two distinctive yet interconnected cultures from both theological and historical perspectives.

HNRS 364: 3 units HIST/ 1 unit THRS

HNRS 365: 3 units THRS/ 1 unit HIST

Conflict Diagnosis & Dispute Resolution in a Global Environment

Drs. Craig and Linda Barkacs

Everyone experiences conflict in both their interpersonal and business relationships. Ever wonder how to handle it? Conflict Diagnosis & Dispute Resolution in a Global Environment is a course intended to help you develop the skills and knowledge needed to diagnosis, manage, and resolve conflict in an increasingly complex and diverse global environment. This interdisciplinary course (law/management/ethics/international relations) utilizes in-class role playing and simulations to help the student experience conflict, as well as learn how to manage conflict. This class will specifically include a prominent cross-cultural component.

HNRS 368: 3 units BUSN/ 1 unit ETLW

HNRS 369: 3 units MGMT/ 1 unit ETLW

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